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Searching for Kali in the Indigenous Chronicles of Jovito Abellana

A Rapid Journal ArticleVolume 10, No. 2
By: Celestino C. Macachor
Retracing our Past on Pandan Leaves – Pre-colonial Cebu
Legends and myth have been told about how the ancient name of Cebu City or as some old timers fondly call Sugbo originated. None of these versions so far have held up to the scrutiny of scholars and historians until Jovito Abellana published his book Bisaya Patronymesis Sri Visjaya where he extensively wrote about Aginid, Bayok sa atong Tawarik (Glide on, Odes to our History)[1]. The Aginid a discovery made by Jovito Abellana’s great grandfather is probably the only pre-colonial chronicle of the history of Cebu written in ancient alibata script on pandan leaves and other indigenous materials. Unfortunately most of the materials were lost in the subsequent upheaval that followed the Spanish defeat by Cebuano guerillas and the ensuing Filipino American War. Amidst strong support by some scholars to institutionalize the Aginid, the Cebu Normal University published it in 1998. Abellana wrote it in alibata (Cebuano hieroglyphic) form with an English translation. The Aginid tells of the fiery story of pre-colonial Cebu then known as Sugbo – which means scorched earth. This version on the origins of Sugbo, is important as it establishes the basic hypothesis why eskrima was invented in the first place – in defense against Moro invaders. And to add credence to the discovery of the Aginid by Jovito Abellana, other cognates of the word Sugbo can be found in the Cebuano lexicon such as: sugba – to grill, subu’ – to forge steel, sug-ang – set a cooking fire, sugnod – to burn. Let us go back to the story of how Sugbo got its name. In the olden times Sugbo (now present day Cebu City) was part of the island of Pulua Kang Dayang or Kangdaya. The ancient poem Diyandi tells us that so many hundred years ago natives had burned the town Sugbo as a way to drive away Muslim invaders from Mindanao. The natives would then flee to the mountains and later launch a counter offensive against the demoralized and exhausted invaders. The first ruler of Sugbo Sri Lumay who came from Sumatra successfully repulsed the invaders with his scorched earth tactics. Thus the place became known as Sugbo or scorched town. Jovito Abellana translated the Diyandi which was written in ancient alibata script and probably written during the time of Datu Tupas. It is a stirring chronicle of the story of the rich culture and colorful history of pre-colonial Cebu.
Aginid, Bayok sa Atong Tawarik (Glide on, Odes to Our History)
Extracted from Marivir Montebon’s book Retracing Our Roots – A Journey into Cebu’s Pre-Colonial Past[2] are excerpts of the story of pre-colonial Cebu according to the Aginid, Bayok sa atong Tawarik (Glide on, Odes to Our History) as translated by Jovito Abellana: “Sri Lumay of Sumatra settled in Sugbo with his son, Sri Alho, ruling the south known as Sialo which included Valladolid, Carcar, up to Santander. His other son, Sri Ukob, ruled the north known as Nahalin which includes the present towns of Consolacion, Liloan, Compostela, Danao, Carmen, and Bantayan. As a ruler, Sri Lumay was known to be strict, merciless, and brave. He assigned magalamags to teach his people to read and write ancient letterings. He ordered routinary patrol by boats from Nahalin to Sialo by his mangubats (warriors). A strict ruler, Sri Lumay was a loving person that not a single slave ran away from him. During his reign, the Magalos (literally destroyers of peace) who came from Southern Mindanao from time to time invaded the island to loot and hunt for slaves. Sri Lumay commanded to burn the town each time the southerners came to drive them away empty handed. Later, they fought these Magalos (Moro raiders) so that they leave the town for good. The town was thus permanently called Kang Sri Lumayng Sugbo, or Sri Lumay’s scorched town. Trading was vibrantly carried on by Sri Lumay’s people with merchants from China, Japan, India, and Burma in Parian, located at the northeastern part of the city. The archipelago was strategically positioned in southeast Asia that it naturally became part of the trade route of the ancient world. Agricultural products were bartered for Chinese silk cloths, bells, porcelain wares, iron tools, oil lamps, and medicinal herbs. From Japan, perfume and glass utensils were usually traded with native goods. Ivory products, leather, precious and semi-precious stones, and sarkara (sugar) mostly came from the Burmese and Indian traders. Sri Lumay was killed in one of the battles against the magalos and was succeeded by his youngest son Sri Bantug who ruled Singhapala (Mabolo district today). Bantug carried on his father’s rules throughout his reign. He organized umalahukans (reporters) to urge people in Nahalin and Sialo to obey his orders, especially on agricultural production and defense. During Sri Bantug’s time, Sugbo, Nahalin, and Sialo thrived on subsistence, sel-sufficient economy. He died in an epidemic which spread in the island and was succeeded by his youngest son Sri Humabon. Under Humabon, the sibo or sibu in Parian became more progressive. Here, the “sinibuayng hingpit” (meaning a place for full trade) was carried on. The word Cebu is thus coined from the old word sibo, an old word for barter, trade, swap. At this time, Lapulapu Dimantag arrived from Borneo and asked Humabon for a place to settle. Being an orang laut (man of the sea), Humabon offered the Opong island but Lapulapu was later convinced to settle in Mandawili (now Mandaue) and make the land productive because it was impossible to cultivate food crops in Opong because of its rocky terrain. Under Lapulapu’s leadership, trading in Parian further flourished because of the goods which he brought from the land and sea in northern Cebu. It did not take long though that his relationship with Humabon turned hostile. Lapulapu eventually became a mangatang (pirate) who ordered his men to loot ships that pass by Opong island. This had lowered the trading transactions in Parian, thus creating tension between Humabon and Lapulapu. Opong island thus earned the ill-reputed name mangatang which later evolved into the word Mactan. In 1521, the Spanish conquistadors came to the Visayan shore. Humabon thought that they came to Cebu to establish ties with his kingdom as did the other traders from Asia. The blood compact between him and the Spaniards and later, a mass baptismal, all meant to signify goodwill as far as Humabon was concerned. But the Spaniards did not see it that way. For them, it was the start of the colonization of the island, signified by the planting of the cross. It was only a little later that Humabon realized this. With the baptismal, Humabon’s subjects embraced a religion which they vaguely understood and without knowing that they had been converted at all, or so the Aginid said. Known to be a wily man, Humabon encouraged the Spaniards to fight Lapulapu, his enemy. Thus the battle of Mactan. Lapulapu proved to be a true warrior in that battle. He instructed his men not to waste their spears and bolos on the Spaniards. Instead, he taught them to strike with pestle or with a club so that when the armor coat of the ugis (white man) is dented, the man inside can never move. It was when they should hit hard with their keen tools for warfare. Humabon’s men merely observed the battle but helped in putting back the wounded white men in their boats. Lapulapu, who was also wounded, lost 29 men. The Aginid narrated that while the battle of Mactan raged on, the Spaniards who remained in Sugbo raped the women. This angered Humabon but he remained outwardly polite as he carefully planned his revenge. The chief prepared a feast for the Spaniards by the beach. When the white men were drunk enough, the natives began to slaughter them. A few managed to escape and return to the three ships, the Concepcion, the Trinidad and the Victoria. Since the Spaniards were considerably reduced in number, those in the Concepcion transferred to the other two ships. Later, the natives set the Concepcion on fire off the sea of Bu-ol (Bohol). After the Spaniards left, the natives uprooted the cross which Magellan had planted annd returned to their animistic religious practices. It was replanted later, upon the plea of Humabon’s wife Juana who, according to the poem, acted on her constant dream of a boy child who asked her to put up the cross again. When Humabon’s wife found out that the boy in her dreams had the same image of the infant Jesus Christ the Spaniards gave her during baptismal, Humabon obliged to replant the cross. Thereafter, the dream no longer recurred. In the succeeding years, Humabon and Lapulapu rekindled their friendship. Lapulapu decided to return to Borneo with three of his wives, 11 of his children and 17 of his men. Humabon thus ruled a much larger area than before. After Humabon, Sri Tupas reigned. He was the son of Sri Parang, Humabons’ elder brother who could not rule because he was limp. During the time of Tupas, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi came to Cebu, and another era of fierce battle ensued. With Legazpi at the helm, Cebu and the entire archipelago were subdued by the Spanish crown for more than three hundred years, in the name of Christianity.”

Postscripts on the Battle of Mactan

This excerpt from the Aginid is presented not to emphasize the battle of Mactan or the so-called “kali” prowess of Lapulapu as what most of the kali advocates would want us to be believe, but rather to highlight the narrative of Magalos (Moro) raids in Cebu and the rest of the coastal villages throughout the archipelago in pre-Hispanic times. While indeed there is graphic description of strategy deployed by Lapulapu, nonetheless it is not conclusive evidence to prove the existence of kali a highly sophisticated martial art that was supposed to be the mother of modern eskrima, arnis and estokada. Moreover, of the 60 soldiers that waded ashore on that fateful day only 9 were killed alongside their leader Magellan versus more than 1,000 men of Lapulapu. Pigafetta probably padded the figures of Lapulapu’s strength to save face in this debacle. Nonetheless, Magellan’s men whether they were grossly outnumbered or not had to maneuver the sharp coral embedded shores of Mactan, most of them malnourished and sick after several months at sea. The arquebuses they carried were practically unreliable after prolonged exposure to the elements - salt water, humidity, and corrosion; they would not have made an effective equalizer against the primitive warriors of Lapulapu. To imagine that more than three quarters of them survived the “battle”, is either a testament of the Spaniards’ fighting prowess despite overwhelming odds or a proof of how sloppy Lapulapu’s men were? Definitely it wasn’t a classic one on one fracas as dramatized in the annual reenactment called Kadaugan sa Mactan (Victory in Mactan) festivities celebrated by the people of Lapulapu City to commemorate this event. Did Lapulapu practice a martial art? Definitely, but not kali, maybe an embryonic and primitive form of weapons combat but absolutely not a fighting art anywhere close to present day eskrima. Eskrima, arnis and estokada that we know today will not achieve the zenith of its technical development and sophistication until the year 1635 during the administration of Don Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera.
Searching for the Kali Connection in Folk Epics
Aside from the Aginid other folk epics exists that left behind a rich legacy of tales that recount the adventures and bravery of tribal heroes, customs and traditions and the practice of an earlier animist religion. These arduously long epics are expressed in song and poetry and in some cases would take more than a month to perform. These epics remained unwritten because chanting is the mode by which these have been produced and passed on from one generation to the next. They portray tribal society before the coming of the Muslims (1380) and the Christians (1521) and serve as vehicles for the transmission of tribal customs and wisdom. Meaning if one wants to learn things in the past, like kali, these epics may provide information. There is no mention of kali practiced by the hero in Biag ni Lam-ang. Likewise the hero Aliguyon of the epic Hudhud did not practice kali. There is also no mention of kali in Labaw Donggon of the Sulod (in Panay, where kali was supposed to be taught in bothoan schools- already proven a fake by William Henry Scott), the Ulahingan of the Manobos, the Sandayo of the Subanon (Zamboanga peninsula) and the Darangen of the Maranaos.
Like the Aginid there is no dearth of information if we are to dig deeper into pre-historic myths and legends through these epics, in fact, the Humadapnon, one of the longer of the epics, takes two months to be chanted in its entire length. Thus if kali really existed, then there is a high probability that one can find and read/hear the word kali, in these many epics. There is none!

However, there is one traditional wedding dance called the Solili in the island of Siquijor (southwest of Cebu) which dates back more than a hundred years and still performed today that incorporates certain elements of stick fighting in its choreography. But sorry to disappoint the kali believers, the Siquijornons call it eskrima!

Following the battle of Mactan, textbook history later recounts that the vanquished Spaniards returned with one ship the Concepcion with the remnants of Magellan's expedition under Sebastian del Cano, proving for the first time, that the earth is round.
The Second Spanish Invasion – Recruitment of Cebuano warriors
“The second Spanish expedition to the Philippines headed by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and Andres de Urdaneta reached Cebu on 27 April 1565. As in the earlier experience, the native reception of Legaspi was initially amiable with a blood compact with Sikatuna, chieftain of Bohol. Later, Tupas, son and successor of Humabon, battled with the Spaniards who easily killed some 2,000 warriors, who were equipped merely with wood corselets and rope armor, lances, shields, small cutlasses, arrows, and decorative headgear. Their native boats "built for speed and maneuverability, not for artillery duels" (Scott 1982:26) were no match to Spain's three powerful warships. Legaspi, accompanied by four Agustinians, built the fort of San Miguel on 8 May 1565. This was the first permanent Spanish settlement in the archipelago. Tupas signed a treaty tantamount to submission on 3 Jul 1565 for which he was given 13 m of brown damask. On 21 May 1568, shortly before his death, Tupas was baptized by Fr. Diego de Herrera- an event which propagandized Spanish rule. On 1 Jan 1571, the settlement was renamed the Ciudad del Santissimo Nombre de Jesus (City of the Most Holy Name of Jesus) in honor of the image of the Child Jesus found in an unburned house in the wake of the Spanish invasion of 1565 (the site of the present Augustinian Church). It was believed to be a relic of Magellan's expedition, the same one given to "Queen Juana" upon her baptism. Cebu was the capital of the Spanish colony for six years before its transfer to Panay and then to Manila. Many Cebu warriors were recruited by Legaspi, Goiti, and Salcedo to conquer the rest of the country. ”[3]The foregoing account by Gwendolyn Ting is self-explanatory if we are to find a direct link of the strong Spanish influence on eskrima among the early Cebuano warriors. When Legaspi moved the capital to Manila, the Moro pirate attacks on Sugbo and outlying coastal villages from Oslob and Moalboal in the south up to the Bantayan group of islands in the north intensified. The Cebuanos sans the aid of colonial firepower once again had to fend for themselves to protect their coastal villages against the Moros of Mindanao. It wasn’t until sixty years later under the command of Spanish Captain Juan de Chavez that the Cebuanos turned the tables around as invaders when 1,000 Creole Spanish speaking volunteer warriors set sail for Mindanao to build a permanent fortification in Zamboanga. Never in the history of Spanish colonization had their been a recruitment of a native warrior class with such high morale motivated by only one thing – revenge! This was to be the turning point in the innovation and development of the deadly art of eskrima and the introduction of the Chavacano language in Zamboanga.

Jovito Abellana: Rennaisance Man
Jovito Abellana is the quientessential Cebuano a renaissance man who once dabbled in sculpture, painting, was a prolific playright, historian, poet and eskrimador. “His contemporaries were painters Teofilo Abellana, Lucas Perez of Cabancalan, Mandaue and Jose Trinidad Alcoseba, patriarch of the Alcoseba Art clan.”[4] The antiquarian was born of humble background on February 15, 1907 to the large Abellana clan of Mambaling in the district of San Nicolas.

His early passion for history was inspired by his maternal grandfather Eulogio Sanchez. The floods and rain that battered their ancestral home in Mambaling destroyed many of the written documents that his grandfather left him. Fortunately the Aginid was one of those documents that were spared by the floods. The Aginid written in Cebuano hieroglyphic (alibata) was probably the most priceless inheritance that Abellana acquired from his great grandfather.

Jose Vano a close associate and a resident of Parian one of the earliest commercial hubs of colonial Cebu, gave Abellana documents to attest to the authenticity of the Aginid.

Jovito Abellana comes from a pedigree of writers, patriots and politicians and raised by a family with a modest means. His mother Maria Sanchez was a well-known dressmaker of Cebu’s elite matronas. Jovito’s father Gregorio was also a writer and among his most notable works was Ang Kagubot sa Sugbo batok sa Katsila in the magazine Bag-ong Kusog where he gave a first-hand account of the anti-Spanish war headed by Pantaleon Villegas a.ka. Leon Kilat and General Arcadio Maxilom. Gregorio was orphaned at a young age and was adopted by the frailes. He experienced the harsh cruelty of his foster parents that eventually compelled him to join the rebel movement.[5]

During the Philippine American war in 1898 Gregorio Abellana served as first lieutenant of the Fifth Company of the First Reserve Battalion under the command of Lt. Col. Nemesio Maxilom.while his brother Andres was Commandant and Chief of Arms in the Second Regular Battalion. After the war Andres Abellana became municipal councilor in the first American sponsored local elections.[6]

In one of those rare occasions that Mr. Abellana accomodated an interview by members of the Cebu Eskrima Society led by Al Cuizon, the patriarch of Cebuano history and language intimated that he was once an active practitioner of eskrima and even had plans to write a treatise on the indigenous Cebuano Martial Art that was supposed to be entitled Pagpanalipud sa Kaugalingon. The project was shelved in lieu of other priorities such as the documentation and translation of the classic epic Aginid, Bayok sa atong Tawarik. He also confirmed what we have always been eager to hear from a man of impeccable integrity and values - there was no kali in Pre-Hispanic Cebu.

[1] Page 15, Retracing our Roots, A Journey into Cebu’s Pre-colonial Past by Marivir Montebon

[2] pages 17,18,19 Retracing our Roots - A Journey into Cebu’s Pre-Colonial Past by Marivir Montebon

[3] Cebuano by Gwendolyn Ting

[4] page B1 Local Art Hero, Life & Leisure, Sun Star Daily December 2, 2003 by Ritchie Landis Doner Quijano

[5] pages 20-21 Retracing our Roots – A Journey into Cebu’s Precolonial and Colonial Past by Marivir Montebon

[6] pages 91, 92, 150 The War against the Americans by Resil Mojares